I live in Houston, also known as Tex-Mex country. You can’t drive 2 blocks without spotting some sort of Mexican restaurant. I’ll admit I may be exaggerating A BIT, but I promise you, not much.
I will also admit I’m not Mexican, though I did play one for a while. See, my ex was born in Mexico and his family moved to Houston when he was 3 or 4 years old. His mother was an excellent cook and would throw down with some off the hook, authentic Mexican fo-shizzle. She spoiled me, but that’s a different and boring story.
I was lucky enough to be able to spend some time with her in the kitchen as she put meals together. To this day I’ve not been able to find any Mexican tamales that can even hold the husk, not to mention a candle, to hers. I learned to cook Mexican food the way she did it, so even though I wasn’t Mexican at birth, I got a pretty good education in their cuisine for about 11 years.
That said, I’m going to share with you one of the dishes she made. These are chicken enchiladas with a red sauce, sometimes called salsa ranchera. I’m sharing the easier version here–meaning you won’t need to steep the chipotle peppers and all that goes with that. We’re going to use the canned stuff; believe me, it works. The other shortcut we’ll take is using a roast chicken or any leftover chicken meat you may have. Pay attention, this is gonna go pretty fast!
In a medium pan heat 1-2 tablespoons of oil. Add the onions and cook them over medium high heat until they have softened. Add the garlic, tomatoes, cilantro and about 1 cup of water. Allow this to cook for about 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes begin to soften and disintegrate and the liquid has reduced. Allow this to cool for a few minutes before running it through the blender with the can of chipotle peppers. Puree until smooth, set aside while you roll the enchiladas.
Preparing the Enchiladas
Preheat oven to 375ºF. Heat a medium-size skillet over medium heat and add about 1/3 cup of oil. Once the oil is hot, cook the tortillas one at a time.
The goal here is to soften the tortillas enough to be able to roll them without breaking. As they hit the oil, they will bubble up a bit; cook them for about 1 minute on either side before removing them to paper towels to drain. Continue this process until you have softened all the tortillas. Set aside.
Lay out the shredded chicken, the cheeses and the tortillas. Spread enough of the sauce on the bottom of an oven-safe pan. For this I used a pie Pyrex pan and spread about 3/4 cup of sauce. Just enough to serve as a bed for the enchiladas.
Place a bit of chicken and a bit of cheese on one end of a tortilla and carefully roll the tortilla so you end up with a fat cigar. Don’t put too much filling, or you’ll have a hard time managing these babies. Once rolled, place the enchilada seam-side down in the sauced baking pan. Repeat until you’ve used all the tortillas and/or chicken.
If you happen to have some chicken left, sprinkle it over the top of the enchiladas just before topping them with more of the sauce. About 1 more cup. Then top with cheese and put them in the oven for 15-20 minutes.
They will be bubbly and the cheese will be completely melted. If you want to brown the cheese, switch the oven to broil and brown for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.
Slap them on a plate with some good refried beans and have a margarita to wash it down and you’re golden!
Editor’s note: This recipe was originally published on August 26, 2010